The Family Bridges Workshop (FBW)
FBW is an evidence-based, four-day, educational and experiential workshop that remediates alienated parent-child relationships where children resist or reject a targeted parent without a valid reason. Children who reject a parent after divorce or separation, who refuse or resist contact with a parent, or treat a parent with contempt, represent one of the greatest challenges facing courts, divorced or separating families, and the professionals who serve them.
Such cases may involve severe alienation, child psychological abuse and maltreatment, and family violence. The Family Court and therapists previously thought such cases were beyond help. Building Family Bridges™ helps children and families where the only other alternative is to allow alienated children to and come to harm by resisting and refusing a relationship with a targeted non-residential parent.
This workshop, originally developed in the USA (Warshak, RA, 2010, https://buildingfamilybridges.com) is available in Australia with accredited facilitators, to be ordered by the family court.
Building Family Bridges™ offers an opportunity for participants to restore positive relationships in a relaxed educational setting. It teaches children how to think critically and how to maintain balanced, realistic, and compassionate views of both parents. The workshop’s primary goals are:
- To help children adjust to the transition of living with a parent from whom they are alienated while the children’s contact with their other parent is suspended by the court for an extended period of time.
- To improve the quality of the parent–child relationship.
The FBW workshop empowers children to reconnect with a targeted parent. It addresses the effects of parental alienation and child psychological maltreatment leading to unwarranted parental rejection. The FBW workshop uses indirect, experiential learning approaches rather than therapy.
How Does The Family Bridges Workshop Remediate Alienated Parent-Child Relationships?
The available evidence does not support conventional therapies such as ‘family counselling’, modified family therapies, or other reunification interventions in cases involving severe alienation or child psychological maltreatment. In such cases, the court must decide that it is in the child’s best interests to have a relationship with a targeted parent as a priority. Furthermore, the court must also decide that placing the child in the sole parental responsibility and care of the targeted parent best fulfil the child’s best interest.
Severely alienated and/or psychologically abused children share common characteristics. They have been through one or more interventions that failed, their alienation and abuse is longstanding and severe. For these children and indeed, for their targeted parents FBW is the “best last hope” (Warshak, RA 2016, p.114)
The FBW helps children understand how adult influence may shape their views. It facilitates them to develop skills to resist outside pressure that can lead them to act against their judgment. The FBW does not change their views, beliefs or behaviour. Instead, alienated children, adolescents and teenagers learn how to apply critical thinking to events around them that may involve them. This is an essential skill for teenagers.
Parents learn how to sensitively manage their children’s behaviour, and the family learns tools to effectively communicate and manage conflicts.
A Relationship with the Formerly Favoured Parent–The After Care Protocol
Suspension of contact for a minimum 3-month period with the favoured parent is one of the essential, non-negotiable requirements of the FBW workshop that the court orders must include. Suspending contact enables families to safely transition and to adjust to the court orders that bring children and their rejected parents together. The exclusion period also provides the formerly favoured parent an opportunity to adjust their parenting style for the sake of their children. The formerly favoured parent must meet reportable criteria to resume spending time with their children in an ongoing parallel parenting setting.
The aftercare protocol (ACP) is implemented by court-appointed practitioners. It works with the favoured parent to reorient them into a parallel parenting model. Within a court-reportable process, the ACP supports and encourages the formerly favoured parent to reform their relationship with their children on different terms. The ACP is a reportable process the court orders at the same time as the FBW workshop and runs separately.
Does Family Bridges™ (FBW) Work?
Efficacy studies (Warshak RA. , 2010, 2014, 2018), show long-term success in restoring relationships between an alienated child and a formerly rejected parent. More recently:
“A sample of 83 severely alienated children and adolescents… who participated with the children in the workshop, and the professional workshop leaders, reported large improvements in the children’s alienated behaviour, changes that reflected statistically significant and large effects. The children’s contact refusal with the rejected parent dropped from a pre-workshop rate of 85% to a post-workshop rate of 6%. Depending on the outcome measure, between 75% and 96% of the children overcame their alienation”, (Warshak RA. ,2018, p. 1).
In some cases, alienated children and their favoured parents may breach the exclusion period during or after the FBW workshop. Breaching the exclusion period may adversely affect the outcome before the family consolidate their workshop gains. The FBW provides ongoing support during the exclusion period once the family completes the workshop to help them consolidate and implement the FBW outcomes.
How Do I Get an FBW Workshop Ordered for Myself and My Children?
Each case involving parental alienation or child psychological maltreatment is different. The FBW workshop may not suit all cases. The consultations required about your situation, fees, costs, logistics, and the Workshop’s suitability are extensive and case-specific. Therefore, we charge our usual professional fees for an initial 1-hour consultation by telephone or online.
Depending on the outcome of your initial consultation, a consultation with me as the FBW Australian Administrator (contact me) is the best way to determine your eligibility. Within the framework of a specific consultation process, I can provide to you and your legal counsel the necessary information to establish FBW and the ACP protocol as a best practice, evidence-based method to fulfil the child’s best interests to have a relationship with a targeted parent.
Under this consultancy, we provide more detailed information to you and your legal counsel about fees, costs, logistics, expert witness services and suitability assessments. This information supports placing them in the sole parental responsibility and care of their targeted parent using the FBW and to provide the child with the opportunity for a relationship with their formerly favoured-residential parent if their formerly favoured-residential parent engages with the ACP.
There may also be situations where legal counsel may introduce information about FBW and the ACP to family consultants and single expert witnesses to assist them in making their recommendations. Family consultants and single expert witnesses can be in a difficult position. They may be reluctant to recommend changes to parental care and responsibility unless they are aware of a safe and effective means of doing so. Nevertheless, they may appreciate that forthright recommendations and action is required in cases of severe alienation and child psychological maltreatment.
Practitioners dealing with children are aware of how repeated litigation and failed interventions adversely impact them. Sometimes the Family Court requires cross-examination of expert witnesses to determine if their recommendations may change if they were aware of a safe and effective intervention such as the FBW workshop for targeted parents and their children, and the ACP for the favoured parent.
Should I be Concerned about Negative Publicity about FBW?
The FBW workshop has been the subject of research into its safety and effectiveness since 2010. Unlike other more informal interventions the Family Court may order, peer-reviewed research supports the FBW and its methodology. This information is part of what we provide to you and your legal counsel to assist the court in deciding the best intervention in your case.
Some of the publicity about FBW is without any basis and contradicts the published, peer-reviewed information. Experts critique peer-reviewed research before peer-reviewed journals published it. For example, some news reports and social media comments claim that FBW ‘de-programs’ children and that children are coerced and prevented from leaving the workshop. Such claims are incorrect. The FBW workshop is facilitated in an educational setting, not a mandated therapeutic setting. Children are not instructed into changing their views-they change their views once they re-engage with their empathy and the capacity for critical thinking.
There may also be reports in the news and social media from alienated children who have been through an FBW workshop and not reconnected with their targeted parent. It is important to know that any publicity you read, especially on social media is not ‘fake news’. News and publicity should use facts that are verified. We cannot comment on individual cases, but the research has noted that:
“Children who remain alienated after the workshop are prone to complain about the experience, especially when aligned with the parent who opposed their participation in the workshop… In addition to the children’s positive ratings, every parent reported that the professionals treated their children benevolently, and no parent perceived any mistreatment of any child. These data suggest that anecdotal reports to the contrary are best regarded as manifestations of a few children’s continued alienation and condemnation of anyone who fails to endorse their rejection of a parent”, (Warshak, RA. , 2018, p. 19).
Furthermore according to recent research:
“Based on the reports of the children, the parents, and the workshop leaders, this study does not support allegations that participating in the Family Bridges workshop traumatises children or is coercive and punitive…To the contrary,…most of the children had positive feelings about the experience and about the workshop leaders”, (Warshak, RA. , 2018, p. 18).
Baker, AJL 2014, ‘Parental alienation as a form of psychological maltreatment: Review of theory and research’, Maltrattamento e abuso all’infanzia.
Kelly, JB 2010, ‘Commentary on “Family Bridges: Using Insights from Social Science to Reconnect Parents and Alienated children” (Warshak, 2010). ‘, Family Court Review, vol. 48, no. 1, p. 81.
Klika, JB & Conte, JR 2018, The APSAC handbook on child maltreatment, 4 edn, American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children handbook, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Lorandos, D., Bernet, W., & Sauber, R. S. (2013). Parental Alienation: The Handbook for Mental Health and Legal Professionals. Springfield, Illinois, USA: Charles C. Thomas Publishers.
Templer, K, Matthewson, M, Haines, J & Cox, G 2016, ‘Recommendations for Best Practice in Response to Parental Alienation: Findings from a Systematic Review’, Journal of Family Therapy, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 103-22.
Warshak, RA 2018, ‘Reclaiming Parent–Child Relationships: Outcomes of Family Bridges with Alienated Children’, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, pp. 1-23.
Warshak, RA 2016, ‘Risks to Professionals Who Work With Troubled and Alienated Parent-Child Relationships’, The American Journal of Family Therapy, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 111-28.
Warshak, R. A. (2015). Parental Alienation: What it is; How to Manage it. (Vol. 27). Dallas, Texas, USA: Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. in press.
Warshak, R. (2010). Family Bridges: Using Insights From Social Science to Reconnect Parents and Alienated Children (Vol. 38). New York, USA: Family Court Review.